Coconut oil is one of the highly desired oils in the world due to its high degree of saturation and good stability [1]. There are different types of coconut oil derived from coconut available in market. Based on their extraction methods, common ones are:

  1. Copra oil - extracted from the dried kernel by mechanical milling;
  2. Virgin coconut oil (VCO) - extracted from the fresh kernel without high heat or chemical treatment;
  3. Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are derived from esterification of glycerol and medium chain fatty acids isolated from natural sources such as coconut, palm or both. They are used for dietary intake.
  4. Fractionated coconut oil (FCO) is same as MCTs (naturally derived) however is used for topical applications and is devoid of ingestion claims.

It should be noted that the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredient) name of copra oil and virgin coconut oil is Cocos nucifera (Coconut) oil, whereas INCI name of MCT and FCO is Caprylic/capric triglyceride as they are composed of only a part of the natural coconut oil chain.


Fractionated coconut oil (FCO) mainly consists of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). Whereas coconut oil is composed of unsaturated fats, medium and long chains of triglycerides [2]). Coconut and palm kernel oils are the only commercially important sources of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) [3]. Fractionated coconut oil or MCT oil is generally composed of either 100% caprylic acid (C8:0) or 100% capric acid (C10:0) or a mixture of the two medium chain fatty acids.

MCTs are components of many foods, with coconut and palm oils being the dietary sources [4]. Recently, MCT/FCO come to light as a raw material for skin care products and has made a breakthrough as a raw material for hair cosmetics.


Coconut oil from the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) grows within 20° north and south of the equator in the tropical region of Asia (Philippines, Indonesia, and India), Africa (Ghana and Nigeria), and South America (Brazil and Mexico) [5]. 

For the production of FCO (caprylic/capric triglycerides), coconut oils are hydrolyzed to release their fatty acids from glycerol, and then the medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) are separated by fractional distillation. The esterification reaction between glycerol and MCFAs is carried out at high temperatures with or without use of a catalyst. The water liberated in the reaction is removed continuously to drive the reaction to completion [3]. When the esterification is complete, excess fatty acids are separated from the mixture by vacuum distillation.


In order to comprehend the connection between coconut oil and fractionated coconut oil, one has to throw an eye on its chemistry. Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a class of lipids in which three saturated fats are bound to a glycerol backbone (Figure 1).

Figure 1: An example of medium chain fatty acids and medium chain triglyceride

The size of the fatty acid is extremely important. Almost all of the MCT used in medicine, research, and food products come from coconut oil. MCT are easily digested, absorbed, and put to use nourishing the body [3]. Unlike other fats, they put little strain on the digestive system and provide a quick source of energy necessary to promote healing [3]. A study [3] presented a comparison of fatty acid profile of various vegetable oils as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Fatty acid composition of coconut oil and some other vegetable oils (Credit: [3])

Figure 1: An example of medium chain fatty acids and medium chain triglyceride

The size of the fatty acid is extremely important. Almost all of the MCT used in medicine, research, and food products come from coconut oil. MCT are easily digested, absorbed, and put to use nourishing the body [3]. Unlike other fats, they put little strain on the digestive system and provide a quick source of energy necessary to promote healing [3]. A study [3] presented a comparison of fatty acid profile of various vegetable oils as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Fatty acid composition of coconut oil and some other vegetable oils (Credit: [3])

It can be seen that it is the MCT (medium chain triglycerides i.e. C8, C10 and C12) which makes coconut oil unique amongst other vegetable oils. What distinguishes MCTs from other triglycerides is the fact that they are readily absorbed across the intestinal barrier and directly enter the portal vein [3]. This allows for much quicker absorption and utilization of MCTs.


Coconut oil is unique because it is composed predominantly of MCT. Fractionated coconut oil comprises of 100% MCTs rather than 10-50% MCTs as in coconut oil. It is colorless with characteristic coconut flavor and finds several applications in medicinal, cosmetics and cooking [3]. Broad spectrum of topical application of FCO are:

  1. Skin nourishing and protection: With lighter, non-sticky and transparent appearance, FCO is lighter on skin with deep penetration resulting in suppleness, smooth and soft skin. As compared to other emollient, its lighter consistency helps in keeping the skin appear radiant and moisturized.
  2. Facial care: Fractionated coconut oil having lower molecular weight imparts a lower viscosity than conventional oils, even at low temperatures [3]. This makes it ideal for treating the cracked surfaces and act as a moisture barrier. It is also used as a glazing and polishing agent in facial cosmetic products.
  3. Imparts strength and protection to hair: A scientific study by Kim and Ahn [6], experimented nine different hair formulations with medium chain fatty acids (C8:0, C10:0 and C12:0) with long chain fatty acids (C14:0, C16:0 and C18:0). Results were tested against differences in tensile strength of hair, color, thickness and protein leak concentration. Results indicated medium-chain fatty acid have better penetration and protection than the long-chain fatty acid. They concluded that better protection of damaged hair is possible due to better oil penetration. Among six fatty acids tested, capric acid (C10:0) followed by caprylic acid (C8:0) showed the highest amount of penetration into hair with caprylic acid showed significantly higher decrease in protein leak than any of the hair treatments. Thereby, FCO protect damaged hair by surface coating and deeper penetration by filling the gaps caused by oxidative damage and environmental stressors.
  4. Fights scalp dryness: Due to its deep hydrating, and light moisturizing abilities, fractionated coconut oil provides inside out moisturization and fight scalp dryness, hair loss and dandruff. Its lock in moisture, and treat dry and damaged hair, making it thicker, shinier, softer, and smoother.
  5. Massage oil, personal care product formulations and DIYs: Being less greasy, smooth texture and most importantly being highly polar, it is capable of dissolving other natural oils, esters and hydrocarbons, making it a superior carrier for vitamins, flavors, and colors as compared to conventional oils [3]. These properties make it an ideal choice for creating personal care cosmetics, massage oils, blends, serums and other DIYs by incorporating additional supplements to the oil making it more beneficial [3]. In addition, Fractionated coconut oils have no unsaturated fatty acids present; therefore, they are exceptionally stable to oxidation and have excellent shelf- life of finished products.
  6. Strengthen and Lengthen Eyelashes, eyebrows, beard and moustache: When used regularly, fractionated coconut oil being less greasy, light, transparent, nutrient rich and shiny; helps grow and strengthen eyelashes, eyebrows, beard and moustache without compromising make-up looks. When used topically, it seeps deeply into the skin, revitalizing and hydrating the area to encourage faster growth and prevent breakage.
  1. Aromatherapy: Fractionated coconut oils are ideal candidate for aromatherapy as it is odorless, easily miscible with other essential oils, have long shelf life and higher stability. All these features make it a better carrier oil for aromatherapy needs where most essential oil needs an odor free, light weight diluent.
  1. Natural hair conditioner: Fractionated coconut oil helps to achieve a more understated and assured look by smoothing out frizz in your hair. You can use Fractionated coconut oils alone as a deep conditioning treatment, or you can add a few drops to your regular conditioner. Your hair is going to feel tangle-free, lustrous, and silky after using it.
  1. Minimize appearance of scars and stretch marks: Regular application of Fractionated Coconut Oil not only restores the skin's moisture but also minimizes the appearance of undesired scars and blemishes due to its caprylic/capric acid deep penetration properties. They accomplish this by plumping the scar tissue by deeply entering it, and encouraging the formation of better surrounding tissue. This promotes the fading of imperfections like dark spots, stretch marks, and uneven skin tone. Note that while it can lessen the appearance of scars you currently have, it cannot remove them.
  2. Soothes skin conditions: Being light on the skin, it is an ideal choice for oily skin. It provides moisture without being greasy
  3. Hydrates Chapped Lips: The fatty acids help to hydrate and moisten dry, chapped lips. Moreover, it adds a glossy, shiny appearance.
  1. Deep Facial Cleanser: FCO keeps your skin smooth, silky by eliminating debris, bacteria, dead skin cells, and extra oil, preserving a better texture and uniform complexion.


While the age-old tales of coconut oil's efficacy is valuable, FCO's scientific backing and unique composition is what really sets it apart from other oils. Whether for skin, hair, or makeup, FCO is leading 20th century makeup cosmetic industry. Using a random sampling roughly 10,000 products listed in [7], an attempt has been made to comprehend the use of Fractionated coconut oils in current market products (Figure 2). Note that not all market products are not included in the data displayed, and numbers may vary.

Figure 2: (a) Fractionated coconut oil distribution amongst personal care market products, (b) Fractionated coconut oil distribution amongst make-up cosmetic products [7]

FCO is the ingredient in 85% of products that are used for make-up, skincare and hair care (Figure 1a). Further breaking down make-up cosmetics, reveals major usage of FCO in foundation/blush/concealer and lip care products. With increasing trends of matt, nude and skin blend properties, FCO are holding a lion’s share in the cosmetic market. A wide range of products in the market today [7] clearly reflect its presence in the personal care market.


Fractionated coconut oil offers numerous benefits; however, it is crucial to use it safely and responsibly. It is generally considered safe for use in skin and hair, however a patch test is always recommended. In case of adverse effects, please discontinue its use and consult your physician.


  1. Deen, A., et al., Chemical composition and health benefits of coconut oil: an overview. J Sci Food Agric, 2021. 101(6): p. 2182-2193.
  2. Healthline. What’s the Difference Between MCT Oil and Coconut Oil? 2019; Available from:
  3. Gopala Krishna A.G., et al., Coconut Oil: Chemistry, Production and Its Applications - A Review. Indian Coconut Journal, 2010.
  4. Today, M.N. What to know about coconut oil. 2023 9.5.2024]; Available from:
  5. Ghazani, S. and A. Marangoni, Fractionated coconut oil and MCT oil production: facts and fiction. INFORM International News on Fats, Oils, and Related Materials, 2020. 31(9): p. 29-32.
  6. Kim, S. and C. Ahn, Determination of penetration and protection of fatty acids in bleached hair according to the fatty acid chain length and the application to understanding the protective effects of MCT oil and coconut oil. Fashion and Textiles, 2023. 10(1).
  7. EWG, E.s.s.d. Caprylic/ Capric Triglyceride. 2024 09.5.2024]; Available from:

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